| AspenTimes.com

Snowboarder Toby Miller soaring under Shaun White’s tutelage

The invitation was too good to pass up: Shadow none other than Shaun White at the Pyeongchang Games.

As the hand-picked successor to the snowboarding icon, teenager Toby Miller jumped at the chance, even bringing along his board. He received a behind-the-scenes look at what White went through in capturing a third Olympic gold medal last year.

Another offer: Take a ride through the Pyeongchang halfpipe. Just to get a taste.

That one he declined. Miller’s saving that honor for when he actually earns his own spot.

All those tips from White will come in handy Friday morning when Miller competes in the halfpipe final at the world championships in Park City, Utah.

His mentor won’t be in the field. But he will be using his mentor’s pointers against the competition.

“I couldn’t ask for a better person to have on my side,” said Miller, who turns 19 on Valentine’s Day. “He’s every kid’s snowboarder superhero and honestly he doesn’t seem like a real person until you meet him. So the first time I ever met him, I’m not going to lie, I was a little star-struck. I was 12 years old and I saw him, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. It’s Shaun White!’”

They train together, something that started after they were introduced through a coach in a right-place-right-time sort of deal. They’ve traveled to contests together. They hang out together, mainly playing video games. Miller said he’s the better Call of Duty player, while White rules at Halo. Really, though, their bond revolves around boarding.

That’s why White took Miller with him to Pyeongchang last February, just to experience what it was like so Miller’s ready when the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing roll around.

“Being there with him and seeing all the things that take place after you win the gold, it’s insane,” Miller said.

White’s gold-medal run happened to be on Miller’s 18th birthday. That morning, they celebrated by eating birthday cake. Miller also gave White a pre-final pep talk because even the best get nervous.

“The gist of the talk was basically me telling him, ‘You’re the best halfpipe rider in the world. You do this better than anybody so just go have fun and show them what you’re made of,’” Miller said.

White did precisely that, too, with an incredible final run that included a trick he patented — the Double McTwist 1260. White topped Ayumu Hirano of Japan and Scotty James of Australia.

The high-risk, high-reward performance made quite an impression on Miller.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned from Shaun is just his mentality,” Miller said. “He can win an event but that’s not good enough for him. He’s going to do everything in his power to better himself. Even if he’s the best in the world, he still wants to be better.

“I’m trying to take that mentality as well.”

Being tutored by White comes with plenty of weight. So Miller uses it to his advantage.

“Pressure is good, because without pressure that means no one’s expecting you to do well,” the young boarder from California said. “I had a lot of pressure on myself to do well but then when other people add pressure to me as well it makes me want to be even better.”

Miller’s got the big tricks, sticking back-to-back 1260s in an event in Copper Mountain that momentarily vaulted him into the lead before he was bumped off the top spot by James. That was a huge confidence boost and Miller plans to go even bigger at the world championships. The field for the final is loaded with big names such as James and 2014 Sochi Games gold medalist Iouri Podladtchikov.

“There’s so much progression to be had,” said Miller, who combined with Sebbe de Buck and Mons Roisland to win a team snowboarding competition at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge in December. “I think the next four or even eight years is going to be fun to watch to see how fast the sport progresses.”

He’s hoping to lead the charge. Should he qualify for the Olympics in 2022 and if White is no longer competing, there’s a standing invitation to be his invited guest.

“Of course I want Shaun to come to every single event whether he’s competing or not,” said Miller, who’s taking classes through Westminster College in Salt Lake City. “He’s just a great person to have around. It’s serious snowboarding and then when we get done it’s like, ‘Let’s have fun.’”

As for following in White’s footsteps, Miller concedes that’s a challenge.

“There’s never going to be another Shaun White. He’s the legend,” Miller said. “So I’m going to do everything in my power to be the best snowboarder I can be and hopefully make a legacy of my own one day.”

Two years after injury nearly took his life, 15-year-old Canter rides at X Games

BRECKENRIDGE — All that stood between Jake Canter and his dream of competing in X Games was remembering his Social Security number.

It was two Fridays ago when the 15-year-old Canter had his father, Carl, drop him off at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen. Canter, a U.S. Snowboard Rookie Team rider, was initially there just to hang out.

Then, on Saturday, that all changed when one of Canter’s childhood snowboarding idols, Mark McMorris, dropped out of an X Games competition. Late Saturday afternoon, the Canadian star McMorris was fresh off winning the X Games snowboard slopestyle competition in thrilling fashion. Riding high on the victory, McMorris opted out of the X Games’ inaugural “Knuckle Huck” competition, which was scheduled to begin a couple of hours later. So he turned to Canter and told him that he could take his spot.

“I’m like, ‘holy, this is really happening,'” said Canter, who trained with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club prior to joining the national team this winter.

With that news, the clock was officially ticking on Canter to gather the requisite information and paperwork to compete. At first, Canter’s father didn’t believe him. It was only a couple of picture texts of his son’s competition bib, credential and paperwork that convinced him.

Once Canter corralled that final required detail, his Social Security number, he was slated to not only compete in the Knuckle Huck, but to be the first to drop in. That meant the Silverthorne resident, effectively, would lead a crew of the world’s best snowboarders down the big air course at Buttermilk.

Riding behind Canter were snowboarders he looked up to, including Olympic slopestyle gold medalists Sage Kotsenburg and Red Gerard.

Canter described the sudden nerves before the competition as the most extreme he’s felt in his young snowboarding life. It was a mainstream moment where even his extended family members back in Wisconsin tuned in to watch, despite their scant knowledge of the sport. After he landed his first trick, Canter smiled wide at the bottom of the course.

“It was definitely the best contest I could have ever done to debut at X Games,” Canter said.

Despite his youth, it was also a major achievement for Canter. Just two years prior he suffered an injury that nearly ended his life.

AWAKENING

It was early in the 2016-17 winter season when Canter’s life was altered by an accident while practicing on a trampoline at Woodward at Copper at Copper Mountain Resort. As a kid, one of Canter’s favorite places in the world were Woodward’s indoor trampolines, where he’d go each day after he finished up riding on the mountain.

The accident occurred when another athlete on a neighboring trampoline lost his bearings in mid-air and collided with Canter. It resulted in a fractured skull, a traumatic head injury and a brain bleed. The injury forced Canter to stay off snow for a few months. Then, in the spring of 2017, the trampolining injury resulted in an even more serious health concern for Canter.

Canter said spinal fluid was leaking due to the injury. The leakage, he said, led to bacterial meningitis. He and his family first realized something was wrong when a terrible two-week-long ear ache left Canter vomiting and then unconscious in his bedroom.

Canter’s family brought him to a hospital in the Denver area where doctors put him into a medically-induced coma.

“I had no clue until I woke up and I thought I was dead,” Canter said.

While he was in the coma, doctors adhered breathing tubes to Canter’s nose and throat and connected several IVs to his body. It was so bad that Canter said the doctors told his parents that he had a 20-percent chance of surviving. At one point, his family brought a priest into his hospital room.

When he groggily woke up from the coma on his sixth day in the hospital, Canter could barely see. But what he could view were the elated reactions of his parents and the doctors.

The next day, Canter had no issues walking around the hospital. Doctors were surprised at how quickly Canter was recovering, as they expected him to be in the hospital for two more weeks. But just two days after he woke up from the coma, Canter was released from the hospital. And a day after that, he grabbed his skateboard to get back to riding.

It wasn’t until August 2017 when Canter returned to snow for the first time. That came right after he had his ear drum removed due to an infection stemming from the meningitis. The injury left Canter fully deaf in his right ear. But that didn’t leave him too down to enjoy that first time snowboarding again in New Zealand.

“When big things happen like that to you,” Canter said, “I don’t know, everything feels so surreal.”

Despite the injury, Canter said his balance for snowboarding wasn’t affected. Still able to compete in the sport he loved, Canter transitioned into a 2017-18 season, where he continued his progression as one of the country’s most talented young halfpipe snowboarders.

It was a successful season in the pipe for Canter, concluding with his victory in March of 2018 at the Burton U.S. Open Junior Jam, an annual competition that pits some of the world’s best young riders against each other.

Despite his success in the halfpipe, Canter had a change of heart later in 2018 after he learned bigger tricks on the slopestyle jumps in Saas-Fe, Switzerland. During the later half of 2018, Canter expressed to his U.S. Rookie Team coaches and sponsors, such as Burton and Red Bull, that he wanted to change disciplines. He said the coaches and sponsors were hesitant at first, trying to convince him to stick to halfpipe.

“But I knew in my heart I wanted to do slopestyle,” he said.

The perspectives of his coaches and sponsors changed quite a bit when Canter won a post-Christmas Rev Tour Elite Nor-Am slopestyle competition in New Hampshire. And, after a few more events this season, Canter sits in first place in the tour’s slopestyle standings. If he concludes the season in the top two, he gets an automatic berth to compete in World Cup slopestyle competitions next season.

DREAMING

Two years after Canter suffered that traumatic head injury at Copper, it was Woodward that helped to provide Canter with the experience of a lifetime — riding with Danny Davis.

Davis is the first name Canter says when you ask him about a snowboarder he idolized as a child. So when the youngster had the opportunity to tag along with the snowboarding star in early January, he soaked it all in. As Davis dialed in tricks ahead of his bronze-medal performance at the X Games, Canter played shadow to his 30-year-old hero. When on the chairlift, Davis asked Canter about typical things, like how school was going. When riding, Davis helped Canter to improve his tricks, offering up tips such as how to spot his landings and when to grab his board to maximize rotational force.

But the main thing Canter took from Davis is to have conviction on a snowboard. Harboring that newfound confidence after his health scare, Canter is excited to follow in the snowboard tracks of predecessors like Davis and reach his ultimate goal: to compete at the Olympics.

“He’s so confident in his riding,” Canter said of Davis, “Even if he doesn’t land something right away, he gets back up and tries and tries and tries. His work ethic is just amazing. It was a dream.”

aolivero@summitdaily.com

On the beat: From X Games Aspen to the world championships in Park City

Well, that was fun.

I’m happy to say I survived covering my third X Games Aspen event over the weekend, and it was certainly a blast. I’m not sure how many words we wrote or pictures we took over those four days at Buttermilk, but I’m sure it’s a ridiculous amount.

As much fun as it was, I’m also glad it’s over. It’s a commitment to cover X Games like we do, and that takes away from the basic necessities of life, such as laundry and showering.

However, as I look back on what we accomplished, I’m incredibly proud. I cannot say enough about Anna Stonehouse and all of her amazing photos and videos, or about our digital editor Rose Laudicina’s unrelenting push of content onto our social media channels. Thanks to editor David Krause for filling in the gaps and to Andrew Travers for excellent coverage of the concerts.

It takes a dedicated team to cover an event like this in the way we did, and I can’t think of a better crew to work with.

If you missed any of it, you can read about it all on our website at aspentimes.com/x-games. There was hometown hero Alex Ferreira finally winning X Games gold. There was the tearful final run from snowboarding legend Kelly Clark, who recently announced her retirement. There was the contract extension that will keep this event here in Aspen for another five years.

I’d like to say we all took some extra time off afterward to recover, but the reality is most of us were back to work within a day or two of the final event (if not the next morning). As far as my schedule goes, I’ll probably feel fully recovered just in time to hop in the car and drive to Utah for Round 2.

If you’re unaware, Park City is hosting the 2019 FIS Snowboard, Freestyle and Freeski World Championships from Feb. 1 to 10. If all goes well, I’ll get over there for some of it, including the Feb. 9 men’s ski halfpipe finals, which will include Ferreira (at least, it should).

While world champs doesn’t quite excite like X Games does for these athletes, it’s still a big deal. It’s held every two years and only rarely makes its way to U.S. soil. Vail hosted the alpine world championships back in 2015.

Like X Games, it’ll be free to watch the competitions in Park City. If the drive is too daunting (I’m not exactly looking forward to it), NBC and NBC Sports will be televising much of it. And, of course, we’ll keep you covered in print and online at www.aspentimes.com.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Steamboat’s Gold sees bigger picture beyond her X Games performance

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After Arielle Gold clipped the icy pipe at the bottom of her opening frontside 1080 on her second run, the announcers at X Games Aspen 2019 deemed it “mental warfare.”

Each competitor gets three attempts at the women’s snowboard superpipe at X Games. The Steamboat Springs native had yet to land a complete run, but that was half the battle for all the competitors that night.

In fact, the only person who landed a clean podium-run on her first try was 29-year-old Spaniard Queralt Castellet, and she held the top spot until gold-medalist Chloe Kim’s second run.

“For a few days, it was more or less not ride-able,” Gold said. “We were all on 45 minutes of practice.”

Normally, the competitors have days to prepare for the superpipe, gearing up to land their top tricks.

Gold’s routine included a frontside 1080 and a frontside 900, and she didn’t plan on letting up for a clean run despite the conditions of the pipe.

“I landed that run twice in practice,” Gold said. “I didn’t have any intention of holding back because it’s the X Games.”

Gold’s first attempt was the furthest she came to a full run. Right out of the gate, Gold excited the announcers by opening with a frontside 1080. As the final competitor before Kim and following American Maddie Mastro’s tumble, Gold was sure to set the pace for a gnarly competition.

Her final trick was the frontside 900, but the base of her board never landed firmly on the ground. She slid by her edge and fell forward, sliding backward before standing back up.

On her third run, Gold landed the 1080 but fell on the cab 720.

“I wasn’t mad about not getting on the podium but about having three runs and not being able to land one — not being able to see how that stacked up against the other girls,” Gold said.

Three days later, Gold said she’s over it and looking toward the World Championships in Park City, Utah.

In the year following her second Olympic appearance at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where she claimed the bronze medal, Gold underwent latarjet surgery, where doctors took a portion of the scapula and attached it to the front of the shoulder socket to help prevent reoccurring dislocations.

It was a long-term solution to a problem that has haunted her since the 2014 Sochi Olympics when she had to withdraw from competing due to a separated shoulder.

“I had surgery in April (2018) and didn’t start doing tricks until December,” Gold said. “Even then, I was just working into things, gradually, not rushing anything. Now, I’m feeling like I’m full strength.”

She spent the week leading up to X Games in Switzerland, finally landing her most dynamic tricks on the halfpipe for the first time since her bronze medal.

“It’s been a bit difficult just getting back into things mentally,” Gold said. “I’m coming back a little slower than normal. For me, I’ve been trying to be patient with myself and take the time that I need getting comfortable with riding again.”

Gold balances a life of school at the University of Colorado Boulder and professional snowboarding. It’s easier for her to take online classes this semester while she travels to compete, but she still likes to spend time in Boulder with her friends.

While she finishes up a psychology degree, which she hopes to earn by next spring, Gold is hoping to also take the veterinary school prerequisites this summer and fall, which will count as her electives. She hopes to apply to veterinary school soon after that.

During a post-Olympic year, snowboarders are welcome to take a few contests off, but Gold hasn’t.

“I love snowboarding, and I’m taking it year by year,” Gold said. “I don’t ever want it to be something I’m forcing myself to do. That’s what’s most important to me. I’m enjoying it.

“I won’t be one of those people who keeps snowboarding until my mid-30s because I’m not trying to graduate from vet school at 40,” Gold continued. “I’ve wanted to go to vet school since I was little kid. I’ve wanted to be a vet even before I wanted to be a pro snowboarder, and it’s the perfect combination of the two.”

lvann@steamboatpilot.com

The Drop-In: Jeep Wrangler X Challenge ride along (video)

We’re throwing it back to some fun we had this weekend at X Games Aspen for today’s Drop-In. We got to experience a new X Games event firsthand and take a ride with professional skateboarder and 10-time Summer X Games gold medalist Bucky Lasek behind the wheel on the Jeep Wrangler X Challenge course. Congratulations to Lasek for grabbing the bronze in the event.

X Games music review: Lil Wayne, Louis the Child and Kygo at Buttermilk

Lil Wayne lived up to the legend. Louis the Child showed us why they’ve broken out as pop superstars. Kygo led another sunny Sunday dance party.

And the bar-swarming, Monster-guzzling, Juul-puffing, snowsports-loving young horde that took over Aspen for the long weekend mobbed the music festival venue at Buttermilk. As X Games hosted its fifth music fest on the mountain, it for the first time sold out the whole run of concerts and gave these fevered crowds a weekend of shows that matched the high-flying feats of the on-snow competitions.

WEEZY’S POWER HOUR

In little over an hour, an energized and fiercely focused Lil Wayne powered through 28 truncated songs Friday night. By the time the rap legend left the stage to a booming “Weezy!” chant from the sold-out crowd of 5,000 on the mountainside at Buttermilk, he’d covered tracks from a decade-and-a-half of his catalog and showcased much of his new “Tha Carter V.”

The New Orleans-bred rapper played with a five-man band of live drums, guitar, bass and keys with DJ T.Lewis (Wayne proudly introduced the crew several times as “my band, my one-man band and the man-behind-the band and the fam”). They added drum fills, bass grooves and flourishes of guitar wails in new arrangements behind T.Lewis’ smooth production and Wayne’s intricate rhymes. This seamless integration of the live instrumentation makes you think that, maybe, his much-derided detour into rock ’n’ roll on “Rebirth” a decade ago were worth it to get to these kinds of exhilarating live shows.

After a chaotic stretch of years in both his personal and professional life — including a jail stint and a split from his career-long home at Cash Money Records — you might expect less. But this Lil Wayne, propelled by the release of the long-delayed, long-awaited “Tha Cater V” in the fall, was dialed in and made a case that he still may be — as T.Lewis proclaimed at the end of the show — “the best rapper alive.”

Wayne paced the stage as he spun out flawless verses, he worked “X Games” into the lyrics of “Got Money,” he led quick call-and-response bits and sing-alongs on fan favorites like “Mrs. Officer,” “Lollipop,” “A Milli” and “I’m Me.” He pulled out nuggets from features and collaborations like “No Problem” with Chance the Rapper and 2 Chainz and “The Motto” with Drake, while peppering the night with throwbacks for longtime fans including a giddy rip through “Go DJ” from the original “Tha Carter.”

As he took the stage just after 10 p.m., Lil Wayne let out a laugh and yelled “It’s f-ing cold!” But after that he didn’t complain about the sub-freezing temperature, didn’t say a thing about the thin air at altitude, didn’t break to hit an oxygen tank as local audiences have come to expect from touring musicians. Instead, he reveled in the cold and the rowdy X Games crowd. The rare moments when he paused were to repeat his mantra of “I ain’t s— without you” and to spout gratitude for the fan support of his new record.

He performed much of the new album, including rapid-fire successive takes on “Let It all Work Out,” “Dedicate,” “Let It Fly,” “Open Safe” and “Mona Lisa.” He closed the night with the ecstatic “Uproar.”

But it wasn’t all fireworks. Wayne slowed down the propulsive set for the R&B jam “What About Me” and a reverent rendition of the mournful “Don’t Cry,” his newly released collaboration with the late XXXTentacion.

BEYOND ‘BETTER NOT’

As Louis the Child played the opening notes of “Better Not” on Saturday night, the crowd (another sell-out) let out a collective roar. What seemed like 5,000 cellphone cameras immediately went up in the air, and hundreds of fans hopped on one another’s shoulders. Small squadrons of revelers broke out into dance circles all the way up the hillside.

With that kind of fevered response to this runaway 2018 hit, the Chicago-based DJ duo could have made the performance a lazy build-up to that explosive moment. They could have, but they didn’t.

Louis the Child’s Robby Hauldren and Freddy Kennett aren’t those kinds of artists. They’re aiming to do something more with their genre-hopping, feel-good spin on EDM and the uniquely personal relationship they’re building with fans and the community that’s growing around their music.

Playing as the sun set behind Buttermilk, Louis the Child led sing-alongs through tracks like “Fire,” “Go,” “Love is Alive,” “Shake Something” and “Slow Down Love.”

They featured remixes of tracks like Major Lazer’s “Be Together,” Ty Dollar $ign’s “Blasé” and Chance the Rapper’s “All Night.” They worked some surprisingly avant-garde drops into their mostly poppy sound, surprising this crowd with asymmetrical and noisy insertions.

But the show was more than the sum of its parts.

Before Louis the Child took the stage, a cellphone number flashed on the story-high video screen with an invitation to text the band. They walked on to a montage of home movies of Hauldren and Kennett as children. Near the end of the performance, during a remix of their Elohim collaboration “Love,” they had this hard-partying, young X Games crowd chanting “L-O-V-E!” and “T-R-U-S-T!”

Yeah, Louis the Child is aiming to create something intimate and sincere in the often impersonal and cold electronic music milieu. Theirs is an open-hearted, post-emo vision of EDM, harnessing the built-in tensions and releases of the form in new ways. While many DJs simply yell at crowds to wave their hands, raise their middle fingers and jump, Louis the Child is urging them toward something like transcendence. For example, midway through the X Games set, Kennett invited the crowd to clear their heads: “Everybody put your hands in the air, just let go of everything — whatever’s on your mind.” As the crowd’s hands went up, the duo played a drawn-out ambient vocal sample, with a steady beat soon rising behind it into a clap-along passage, which Hauldren and Kennett then upended with a big, rattling bass drop that sent the crowd into a unified hop.

In an interview before the show, Kennett described the Louis the Child mission as “trying to connect people, create happy moments, make it not about me and Robby but about what kinds of connections we can make with other people and how we can help them realize what is making them happy and what is making them sad.”

See them live and you see what he means. With that kind of connection to fans, it’s no wonder they’re the first band ever to sell out an afternoon show at X Games.

KYGO’S SUNNY SUNDAY

Kygo returned Sunday to the same X Games time slot he memorably filled in 2016. The Norwegian DJ brought the same mostly sunny skies and mercifully warm temperatures and again he threw a laid-back mountainside dance party attuned to the spirit of the closing hours of Aspen’s big weekend. But this time a crowd at least twice as big came out for the show.

Nobody in this sell-out audience would complain if ESPN signed Kygo for a residency to play a Sunday afternoon set here every X Games.

Sunshine broke through the previously overcast sky just before a jubilant Kygo took the stage and opened his buoyant 90-minute set with “Born to be Yours.”

He performed from a console on a story-high platform that placed him in the middle of a massive video screen, situating the 27-year-old EDM superstar in the middle of his production’s animated visuals and concert footage (and allowing everybody on the hillside to see him).

His rapturously received set included his hits like “First Time” and “Sunrise” and live remixes of crowd-pleasers like Zedd’s “The Middle,” Tiësto’s “Jackie Chan” and Avicii’s “Without You.” He broke out his steel drum-infused spin on Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and a disco mash-up of Chic’s “La Freak” — these irresistible takes on old jukebox hits tend to near the edge of cheesiness but never quite tip over it. He closed out the set by running through mixes of his new single “Happy Now,” followed by “Stole the Show,” “It Ain’t Me” and then brought out vocalist Justin Jesso to provide live vocals on “Firestone.”

He worked with a basic quiver of ingredients on the set: mostly samples of piano lines and steel drums, with high-register vocal parts, some house synths, some high-BPM pump-ups and some soulful breakdowns. It’s a winning formula.

Kygo performed with a beaming smile on his face throughout, counting down to drops and punctuating them with dramatic smoke machine and flamethrower effects. After spending the past four days skiing in Aspen with his entourage, he was in a soaring mood that matched this crowd’s.

atravers@aspentimes.com

Scotty James overcomes training malfunction to win X Games gold

Scotty James may have had “a few too many burgers” going into Sunday’s men’s snowboard superpipe contest at X Games Aspen. That’s about the only reason he could find to explain how he broke his snowboard during training ahead of the competition.

“I had a pretty horrible practice, which was really messing with me a little bit. I broke my snowboard and I hadn’t done all my tricks yet or finished the run that I wanted to do,” James said. “I was able to get up and get one more run in, but it was a new board, so it was a little bit hard for me to figure it out. It was a pretty dramatic setup into the competition but I was stoked I was able to pull it off.”

James, the tall, likable Australian known for his boxing glove mittens, did struggle on his first run on a new snowboard. But the reigning Olympic bronze medalist figured it out in his second and put down a run that carried him to his second X Games Aspen title in three years.

“Scotty really took the time to learn the fundamentals. I think a lot of kids skip the fundamentals and go straight to the tricks,” said the 30-year-old Danny Davis, who took bronze Sunday. “What he does in the air is incredible, but what he does between walls is really incredible — all the edge work. And that’s why he can continue to go big and do really high-spinning, high-flipping tricks.”

James, 24, won his second Aspen gold medal — his first came in 2017 — with his nearly flawless second run that netted him a score of 94. Yuto Totsuka, a 17-year-old X Games rookie, was the second to drop into the pipe Sunday. He looked less like a newcomer and more like his Japanese counterpart, reigning X Games Aspen gold medalist Ayumu Hirano, by landing a 90 on his first run.

Hirano, along with halfpipe legend and reigning Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, opted not to compete this year.

“I just give him credit and say congratulations and then I know I got to go out and do what I got to do,” James said of Totsuka, who took silver. “I had some adversity and had a lot of trust in myself and my riding to see past it.”

Davis, a two-time X Games gold medalist and fan favorite, put down a run of 83.66 on his first go, which held on for the bronze. It was his first medal in Aspen since winning the second of back-to-back superpipe contests in 2015. He missed X Games Aspen last year after a “minimal” MCL tear suffered during the Mammoth Grand Prix.

“I’m friendly with everyone and I love to see my friends doing well, but I’m competitive,” Davis said of sitting out X Games last winter. “So to see those guys’ runs and watch from the couch last year was something that maybe lit a little fire under me, for sure. But I’m always going to snowboard. I’m always going to try to learn new tricks. So it doesn’t take much to light a fire under my butt.”

Davis credited the judges’ apparent emphasis on amplitude for him being able to hold on for bronze.

There wasn’t much drama down the stretch in Sunday’s competition. Idaho’s Chase Josey had a solid third run of 82.66, but finished a point short of Davis in fourth. Eagle’s Jake Pates, who briefly trained with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club when he was younger, scored 81 on his final run to finish in fifth. Oregon’s Ben Ferguson also had his best run in Round 3, scoring 79.33 to take sixth.

For James, returning to the top of the X Games podium meant a lot. He had a phenomenal season last winter, but always seemed to come up short in the major contests. Most notably, he scored an unreal 98 in his final run at X Games Aspen 2018, but lost to Hirano’s 99. Even Ferguson had to settle for bronze last year in Aspen despite a 95. Josey had 90 a year ago and didn’t medal.

“It feels amazing to be back up on top,” James said. “Week after week of getting second and third, second and second and third. It was probably spit of the fire why I came out this year and I wanted to get the gold. And it’s happening for me and it’s a great feeling.”

James, the top returning medalist from last year’s competition, was the last to drop in Sunday. By then, he had his gold medal in the bag. Instead of sending it through the pipe one more time, James rode his snowboard up onto its deck and began to high five the fans lining its side. He then hopped into the pipe, crossed over to the other side, and began to do the same with the spectators over there.

Davis, known for his own jovial nature, loved every second of it.

“He’s just on a tear, man,” Davis said of James. “He’s a confident dude and he’s a nice dude. He’s high fiving everyone up there. I love to see someone like him doing well. It puts a smile on my face.”

Taking seventh Sunday was Switzerland’s Iouri Podladtchikov, who made his return to the Buttermilk superpipe after his injury there in 2018. The 2014 Olympic gold medalist crashed hard at X Games Aspen last winter, and had to be taken away in an ambulance. He missed the chance to defend his Olympic title because of it.

Taking eighth Sunday was up-and-comer Toby Miller, ninth Japan’s Raibu Katayama and 10th Swiss rider Pat Burgener.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

X Games Day 4 notes: 1997’s 3-time medalist happy for Sildaru’s feat

Jennie Waara is busy with a career as a personal trainer in Sweden, but the former X Games triple-medal winner said over the weekend she’s glad to have Kelly Sildaru in her club.

Sildaru, the 16-year-old freeskier from Estonia, became the first woman in 22 years to win three medals in one X Games weekend. The only other was a then-22-year-old Waara. At the inaugural X Games in 1997, the Swedish snowboarder took home gold in boardercross, silver in halfpipe and bronze in slopestyle at Big Bear Lake in California.

“That was an amazing year for me,” Waara said in an email Sunday. “I am very grateful for what snowboarding has given me and also for the X Games that gave many sports the chance to be seen as the amazing and entertaining sports they are.”

Sildaru won silver Thursday night in the superpipe, and then Friday won gold in the slopestyle in the morning and bronze in the big air that night. Sildaru said she knew another woman had won three medals but didn’t know anything about Waara.

Waara said she hasn’t been watching the X Games and didn’t know about Sildaru’s success. Waara remains grateful for event’s continued success and what it has meant for action sports.

“I’ve always felt that the X Games family did it for the love of the sport and I’m extra supportive of all the women in sports,” Waara wrote. “I wish Kelly all the luck and I hope she comes home with three medals in her bag!”

HILL CLIMB TAKES NEW APPROACH

The hill climb returned Sunday after making its debut at the 2018 X Games, but with a slight change.

OK, maybe not a slight change. A 40 degree increase in the pitch was added as the event moved venues. Last year, the hill climb went up the center of the superpipe; this year, organizers moved the event to the big air course, carving two lanes into the landing area and up the hill.

The gold-medal match was between the riders with the fastest qualifying times: Logan Mead, who finished sixth last year, and Travis Whitlock, the 2018 X Games gold medalist.

Mead, the No. 1 qualifier, had a great start, which allowed him to dominate the race, unseating the reigning gold medalist. Whitlock had to settle for silver after he crashed three-quarters of the way up the hill.

After having to compete against his brother in an earlier heat, last year’s bronze medalist Austin Cardwell was back in the bronze medal match, this year against Jake Anstett.

Much like Whitlock, Cardwell lost control of his bike, getting thrown off in the same spot, allowing Anstett, who finished in seventh last year, to get the bronze.

Police: X Games crowds well-behaved over weekend in Aspen area

Local law enforcement said Sunday the X Games crowds and visitors around the area have been behaving and there were few incidents on Friday or Saturday nights.

Aside from people wandering around town early in the morning hours looking for rides or walking on Highway 82 between bus stops, there were no major problems, officials with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and Aspen Police said Sunday.

There was just one felony arrest over the weekend, and it turned into felony drug charges.

Aspen police arrested Derek Andrew Goolsby, 41, who is a rapper and goes by DJ Scramn, on a felony warrant out of Georgia for probation violation, Aspen Police Sgt. Rick Magnuson said.

Officials were notified that Goolsby might be in town performing, and Aspen police confirmed it by his social media posts. They arrested him about 11 p.m. Saturday at the Bootsy Bellows nightclub on the outstanding warrant.

Goolsby was later charged after he was being booked and police found cocaine on him, Magnuson said. Goolsby has been charged with two Class 4 felonies: unlawful possession of a controlled substance and introducing contraband in the first degree.

Aside from that, the crowds for the competitions and concerts have filled Aspen but with little trouble.

“There were tons of people in town, but I think we’ve had a very successful X Games up to this point,” Magnuson said Sunday afternoon. “Good behavior by everyone.”

Snowboarder Elena Hight is ready to explore life outside the halfpipe

Famed big mountain snowboarding icon Jeremy Jones is known for his backcountry escapades. Last spring, he took to the John Muir Wilderness in California for his latest film, Teton Gravity Research’s “Ode to Muir,” and wanted to bring along someone outside the norm.

So he asked Olympic halfpipe snowboarder Elena Hight, who lives in nearby Tahoe, to come along for the ride. Turns out, that experience ended up being somewhat life-changing for the former X Games champion.

“I’ve always really loved all aspects of snowboarding, but really getting into the backcountry and learning more about the big mountains has always intrigued me,” Hight said in a recent interview with The Aspen Times. “That really sparked the transition and solidified the fact that I really want to pursue this side of snowboarding and challenge myself in a new way.”

This might have been the final nail in the coffin for Hight’s exit from the halfpipe world. Currently 29, Hight has spent the better part of 15 years competing in the pipe. She’s won multiple X Games medals, including her breakthrough gold in 2017. She competed in both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics and is a former Burton U.S. Open champion.

Much like icon Kelly Clark, who recently announced her retirement from the sport and took one final ride down the X Games superpipe before Saturday’s contest at Buttermilk, Hight is moving on. She opted out of X Games this year in favor of a trip to Japan with TGR, where she is to be featured in an upcoming film.

Hight is hardly retiring from snowboarding, but her halfpipe days are likely going to be replaced with backcountry expeditions and a lot of more freeriding.

“The ‘Ode to Muir’ was definitely the first big expedition I’ve ever done. It really was eye opening. It was a couple of days in when I realized just how much I was learning and how really at peace and connected I felt being out in the mountains,” Hight said. “Obviously, Jeremy Jones is the godfather of this stuff, so I was learning from the best person I could possibly learn from and really felt like it was the place that I was supposed to be.”

In “Ode to Muir,” Hight certainly seemed out of her element compared to Jones. She wasn’t completely comfortable with the splitboard and camping in the cold and snow didn’t seem to bring her much joy. But by the end of the film she seemed to have gone through a transition that has remained well beyond the final credits.

“Coming up in the competition scene was really a dream come true and being able to contribute to women’s snowboarding and push the limits where I could and challenge myself was all I ever hoped to do,” Hight said. “I feel like everything is falling into place for me and I’m really excited for this next chapter of filming and stepping into the backcountry. I think it’s going to be a real fun next couple of years.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com